First Impressions: “Clive Barker’s Undying” (Retro Computer Game)

Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d take a look at an old horror game called “Clive Barker’s Undying” (which I bought for £1.19 during a sale on GOG last year).

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that this is more of a “first impressions” article than a full review. I’d planned to finish this game before I posted this review but, after getting somewhere between one-third and halfway through the game, I realised that I’d never finish it before Halloween without falling massively behind on my article schedule. Plus, I also found myself abandoning the game for other reasons that I’ll explain later.

I should probably also warn you that this review may contain a couple of (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES. Likewise, the game itself contains FLICKERING lightning effects at the beginning.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Clive Barker’s Undying”:

“Clive Barker’s Undying” is a first-person shooter game from 2001. Set in the 1920s, you play as an occultist and ex- soldier called Patrick Galloway who has been living in exile from his native Ireland until he is summoned back by a letter from his old friend Jeremiah Covenant.

When he arrives at Jeremiah’s remote mansion, he finds that Jeremiah has been taken ill. Not only that, there seems to be some kind of family curse that has filled the creepy old mansion with ghosts and monsters…..

Well, it would be a very boring game if there weren’t ghosts and monsters….

My very first impressions of this game were extremely good. Even the main menu not only looked really cool, but also had ominously dramatic background music and some amazing flame animations for the mouse cursor.

Plus, for the elitists amongst you, there’s actually a framerate slider in the options menu. A framerate slider!

Not only was this a game that Clive Barker helped to make but it was also an EA game from the early 2000s. As much as EA deserve all of the criticism they get these days, there’s no denying that for a very brief period during the early 2000s they seemed to be the best for gothic horror games. I mean, they published the amazing “American McGee’s Alice” a year before this game! So, my expectations were sky-high.

And, for the early parts of the game, they were more than met. You begin the game by exploring a gloriously gloomy old mansion and it is still creepy to this day. Although there are a few scripted moments, a lot of the horror here comes from the frantic, claustrophobic combat and the general atmosphere of the place. Seriously, the early segments set in the mansion are how to make a horror game properly.

I LOVE the lighting here too 🙂

Seriously, I got a real “Silent Hill 3“/ “Realms Of The Haunting” vibe in this area!

Seriously, I wasn’t exaggerating when I said that this location is still creepy to this day

Everything here is designed to ramp up the suspense. Whether it’s the fact that the lighting is dark enough to be creepy, but not dark enough that you get totally lost (eg: usually there is at least one lit area visible at any one time) or the constant sense of ominous suspense that gradually builds as you creep around the gloomy corridors in fear of your next monster encounter, this part of the game is scary.

This constant fear is amplified by the fact that you are occasionally attacked by powerful fast-moving monsters who will leap at you furiously.

Usually, your best bet is to get a headshot with your revolver in the few seconds you have whilst they are scampering towards you. But, of course, there’s usually more than one of them around at any one moment and you only have six bullets in your gun (and not enough time to reload if you miss too often..). This is how to add tension to an action-horror game!

Of course, once you see THIS, it’s almost too late…

In addition to this, Patrick also has several magical abilities that he can use (which use a recharging “mana” counter). The one you will be using most often is the “Scrye” ability – not only does this highlight enemies and allow you to see in the dark for a short time (with cool purple-tinted night vision no less 🙂 ), but it will also allow you to see things that you can’t ordinarily see.

Often, you will hear an ominous whisper telling you to use the ability and then, for example, a nearby painting will be transformed into a grotesque vision of hell:

Well, the game does have the words “Clive Barker” in the title. What did you expect? Unicorns and puppies?

However, as utterly awesome as the earlier parts of the game are – it doesn’t stay this way for too long. Even though there are some really cool locations after you initially explore the mansion, don’t get too used to them…

Seriously, this ominous floating building reminded me a bit of “American McGee’s Alice” 🙂

And just take a look at this gloriously gothic mausoleum 🙂

After a while, you will find yourself beneath an old monastery, and this is where I started to lose interest in the game. Not only do you have to trudge through endless dark underground catacombs (using the scrye ability every twenty seconds or so is practically mandatory…), but the game’s difficulty level goes from “enjoyably challenging” to “keyboard-smashingly cheap“. On “normal” difficulty, no less!

I’ve got six health points and skeletons have started spawning from this pile of bones. Skeletons that require expert marksmanship to defeat…

Not only does the game get more and more stingy with health packs and ammunition, but it also has a habit of spawning in lots of powerful monsters too. Many of these monsters require lightning-fast reflexes and/or precision aiming. Now, this would be ok if the game had a fast iteration time. But it doesn’t.

Every time you are killed, and it will happen a lot, you often have to sit through an unskippable 10-15 second death animation. Needless to say, this gets very old very fast. Other retro games like “Blood” can get away with being ultra-challenging because you can be back in the action about 1-5 seconds after you’ve died. Not so with this game…

This is a death animation from earlier in the game. Yes, these unskippable animations are creepy when you see them for the first time. Less so when you see them for the thirtieth time…

Eventually, this cheap difficulty and the sheer boredom of dingy catacomb after dingy catacomb just got the better of me and, whilst I’d planned to play more of this game before writing this article, I found myself skiving off and re-playing part of “Doom: The Golden Souls” instead. It seemed fifty times more fun than spending another hour of frustration in the catacombs….

What can I say? Fun wins every time…

Anyway, one strange feature of “Clive Barker’s Undying” is that it was designed for a future console port that was never actually made.

What this means is that there are short “loading” screens between some areas, and there’s also a spell/weapon wheel feature, which is actually quicker than cycling through your weapons and spells using the keyboard. Although these things are a little bit annoying, they’re hardly game-breaking problems. However, I noticed a fair amount of screen tearing whilst playing some parts of the game, but this might just be my computer.

From what I’ve seen, the game’s weapons are actually fairly good. In addition to a revolver and double-barelled shotgun (both of which require frequent reloading, which ramps up the tension), you can also find a “Tibetan War Cannon” which serves as an infinite-ammo freeze gun. Plus, I found sticks of dynamite and molotov cocktails too.

Of course, having played “Left4Dead2” quite a bit during my early twenties, I kept expecting Patrick to shout “throwing a molotov!“.

The “Tibetan War Cannon” is a golden dragon that spits chunks of ice! Seriously, I love how creative FPS game weapons used to be 🙂

In addition to this, you can find alternate ammo types for the pistol and shotgun (eg: silver bullets and incendiary shells) which can be very useful. Plus, one of the game’s spells allows you to shoot energy from your palms, and there’s a green stone you can use to repeal monsters. Seriously, I love how creative FPS game weapon design used to be.

The game’s monster designs are surprisingly good, with many of the monsters presenting a formidable threat to the player.

There are fast-moving “Howlers”, teleporting Lovecraftian horrors, invisible guards, powerful skeletons etc… Many of these monsters are vulnerable to different tactics and/or weapons. If they were used more sparingly, these monsters would be brilliant! However, the game will occasionally just spam these monsters at you sometimes. And, given how challenging they are, this quickly borders on unfair.

Seriously, if there were one or two Howlers here, it would be really fun! But, there are at least four….

In terms of voice-acting and sound design, this game is variable. Whilst the game’s music is brilliantly suspensful, the voice-acting can vary in quality somewhat – although this just adds to the vintage charm of the game. Likewise, the sound effects are all reasonably ok too.

All in all, wait until this game is on sale and then play the earlier parts of it. This game has a timelessly brilliant beginning, which is still utterly creepy to this day. The earlier parts of this game are atmospheric, suspenseful and a perfect example of a horror game. However, as soon as you start finding yourself in dingy underground catacombs, then save yourself the frustration and play something else instead….

If I had to give what I’ve played so far a rating out of five, it would probably get a three.

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